Reviews

It's David vs Goliath in 'Battle for Brooklyn'

The ghost of "master builder" Robert Moses looms over this film.


Battle For Brooklyn

Director: Suki Hawley, Michael Galinsky
Cast: Daniel Goldstein, Shabnam Merchant, Sita Goldstein, Patti Hagan, Letitia James, Norman Siegel, Bruce Ratner, Marty Markowitz, Bruce Bender, Michael Bloomberg, Jay-Z
Length: 93 min
Studio: Virgil Films
Year: 2011
Distributor: Virgil
Release date: 2013-01-15

At first glance, the title Battle for Brooklyn suggests a gang war raging on the streets of the Dodgers' former habitat, the sort of hyper-violent slice of New Yorksploitation that frequently graced – if you want to use that genteel term – theater screens back during the Carter-Reagan years; think The Warriors, Fort Apache: The Bronx, or Cannon Films' execrable Death Wish 3. But there's no gunplay in this feisty documentary which spotlights a different type of fight, namely a David-vs-Goliath struggle between the residents of Brooklyn's Prospect Heights and the mighty forces of development giant Forest City Ratner, The Big Apple's municipal authorities, and even the Governor's office.

Introduced by actress Annabeth Gish, Battle for Brooklyn examines the ambitious Atlantic Yards project ("AtYa"), unveiled by Forest City Ratner (FCR) in 2003. This city-in-a-box undertaking would place a basketball arena – accommodating the New Jersey Nets – and 15 skyscrapers into an unassuming, long-inhabited Brooklyn neighborhood. The anointed architect is the celebrated Frank Gehry, and AtYa is cheerfully supported by Mayor Bloomberg and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, not to mention megarich hip-hop impressario Jay-Z.

The fly in the ointment? The residents of Prospect Heights – most, at least – prefer not to relocate, and Forest City Ratner is a private corporate entity, thereby making it illegal for the political powers-that-be to use eminent domain to allow FCR to plant their flag in the community. Of course, private property has been seized by government bodies throughout American history, but generally for taxpayer-funded civic projects, not for private enterprise.

The developers and their allies at City Hall claim that AtYa will multiply local jobs, but resident Daniel Goldstein – the “David” of this documentary – isn't as sanguine. As his cohort Letitia James points out, these construction gigs will be temporary at best, and union rules will likely dictate that outsiders do the work. Besides, this “community from scratch”, as the development proponents call it, would essentially erase a viable one that's existed harmoniously for decades.

Unsurprisingly, racial divides are stoked. B.U.I.L.D., a predominantly African-American planning organization, advocates AtYa, in the perhaps misguided belief that permanent jobs, which the local black community needs most desperately, will materialize. Accusations are hurled that B.U.I.L.D. Is on the take to FCR, and this fracas begins to veer into Tom Wolfe territory, or evoke John Sayles' 1991 City of Hope, an anthill's view of urban friction.

While not exactly even-handed, neither should Battle for Brooklyn be dismissed as propagandistic advocacy journalism, as it does present the opinions of the One-Percenters at the eye of the storm. Damningly, for them, Battle for Brooklyn also makes it clear that those same Masters of The Universe have failed to consult with Prospect Heights residents and even turn away some outraged activists from a suspiciously private meeting.

Of course, the ghost of New York's fabled grandmaster Robert Moses – referenced in the six-minute documentary “More to Talk About”: The Tragedy of Urban Renewal -- nevertheless hangs over these proceedings. Moses was, for decades, the modern-day Baron Hausmann of urban ergonomics and wielded awesome power over New York's development, bulldozing neighborhoods with impunity and laying down multi-lane expressways as easily as toy train tracks. It's no exaggeration to say that the New York we know today would not exist without his controversial, iron-fisted decisiveness. It's stated that Moses' cohorts, many captains of industry, benefited enormously from backroom deals struck with the Gotham Godfather. If so, it seems a foreshadowing of Prospect Heights' looming date with the wrecking ball.

Extras include the aforementioned “More to Talk About”, a historical peek at a now-vanished African-American community rooted around Manhattan's 98th and 99th streets. The Federal Housing Act of 1949 declared this enclave a “slum”, and it was promptly flattened. Robert Caro, author of the sprawling Robert Moses biography The Power Broker is interviewed, and Moses' quiet corruption is discussed, along with footage of the “master builder”. Conversation with now-elderly former residents is a highlight.

Accompanying this is a 12-minute Filmmaker Spotlight, which features dialogue with the directors, producer David Beilinson, and Dan Goldstein, who has formed a grass-roots committee called Develop, Don't Destroy Brooklyn. Finally, there's a selection of trailers for various Virgil Films releases, all muckraking docs, including “Battle”, Stolen Seas, and Big Boys Gone Bananas.

Co-directed by Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley, the scrappy Battle for Brooklyn uncovers an ideological tussle set in New York, but this sort of property-based tug-of-war is a universal phenomenon that has existed probably as long as humankind has lived in cities. The leftist in me whispers that these battles will increase as resources shrink and the wealth gap in the US continues to widen. Still, Battle for Brooklyn convincingly demonstrates that you can fight City Hall.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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